CASES of babies learning to crawl on infested carpets in modern Scotland are highlighted in a damning new report that claims poverty and red tape put pregnant asylum seekers and their children at risk.

Research found mothers-to-be have been left without the means to travel to hospital appointments.

Meanwhile, poverty, delays to payments, and problems caused by the distribution of pre-paid cards rather than cash by officials leave new parents struggling to buy blankets and nappies for their newborns.

Poor-quality housing used by Home Office contractors is also said to threaten the safety and wellbeing of the vulnerable families, while several women interviewed by researchers said their living conditions and uncertainty about whether or not they will be allowed to stay in the UK had driven them to consider or attempt suicide.

Researchers also uncovered several cases where expectant mothers were driven into destitution through delays and other administrative errors in processing their claims for support, or by government policy.

The findings are published today in a report entitled A Healthy Start? by the British Red Cross and Strathclyde University.

Phil Arnold, head of refugee support in Scotland for the British Red Cross, said: “All women need support during pregnancy, no matter what their immigration status.

“All women need a safe, secure place to live, nutritious food, proper rest and to be able to access good quality healthcare throughout their pregnancy. For women seeking refugee protection, these essentials are often out of reach.

“Homelessness and destitution during pregnancy is unacceptable in 21st-century Britain. The Home Office must provide adequate support to all pregnant women regardless of their immigration status. They must also urgently make sure that their accommodation providers are housing women and children in suitable and secure properties.”

The report, which surveyed the Glasgow area, found women who were destitute had to rely on informal support networks for food and shelter, leaving them vulnerable to sexual exploitation and abuse.

Meanwhile, others told how they were housed in substandard, unsafe flats, some of which had infested carpets and presented a health risk.

Stress and anxiety suffered by pregnant women as a result of the asylum process were also said to endanger unborn children, many of whom were born to women who had fled traumatic experiences, including torture and sexual violence, in their home countries.

One woman in Scotland told researchers: “I only found out I was pregnant when I tried to kill myself. I didn’t know what I was going to eat today or tomorrow. I felt like all the power had been taken away from me.”

Another said: “The Home Office thinks we’re not people. If we’re not born here, we’re not proper people.”

The British Red Cross says failing to meet the shelter and support needs of expectant mothers may constitute a breach of human rights and is urging the UK Government to provide adequate support for all pregnant women. It also wants greater clarity around the responsibility of local authorities to provide support to pregnant women at risk of destitution.

In September, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said temporary housing for asylum seekers may be taken into public hands after revelations about accommodation provided by Home Office-approved Orchard & Shipman to almost 5,000 people in Glasgow.

Some homes were dirty, plagued with insects and had no front-door locks, with conditions so bad a parliamentary enquiry was called.

Serco, the main contractor, downplayed some of the claims but later said it would assume direct control of provision of accommodation as a “business decision”.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “The UK has a proud history of granting asylum to those who need our protection and we are committed to providing safe and secure accommodation while applications are considered. We demand the highest standards from our contractors over the quality of asylum accommodation. We are clear all asylum seekers being supported must be treated with care and respect, especially the most vulnerable.”